There's something happening south of the border, and chilangos (Mexico City natives) would rather keep it a secret. It's hard to believe that the D.F. (Distrito Federal) is finally cleaning up its act. Crime has dropped some 50 percent in the past decade (thanks in part to the hiring of ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a "crime consultant") and a new generation is invigorating once-sleepy neighborhoods.
Condesa and Roma—two such areas—are centrally located between trendy Polanco and the touristy Centro Histórico, just south of the busy Zona Rosa. But unlike those more congested areas, the wide boulevards here are tree-lined and quiet. Artists stroll the streets (a rare sight in this car-obsessed metropolis), walking dogs and ducking into the shops, galleries, and restaurants that have overtaken European-style town houses and Art Deco storefronts. These neighborhoods feel surprisingly like Europe—though far closer to home and with a much better exchange rate. Chilangos may want to keep the news to themselves, but some things are too good not to share.
WHERE TO STAY Housed in a 1920's French Neoclassical building, Condesa DF (102 Avda. Veracruz; 52-55/5282-3100; www.condesadf.com; doubles from $185) is, for now, the only hotel in the immediate area. A partnership between the owners of Polanco's Hotel Habita and New York-based restaurateur and hotelier Jonathan Morr, the 40-room property was designed by India Mahdavi. She was tapped to create a modern space with a rooftop terrace and bar overlooking the lush Parque España. • In Polanco, the new W Mexico City (252 Campos Eliseos, Polanco; 877/946-8357 or 52-55/9138-1800; www.starwood.com; doubles from $249) offers some of the best views of the city—from the guest bathrooms: each has a picture window covered by thick wooden blinds and a hammock to relax in post-shower. On an expense account?Check into the 2,500-square-foot Extreme Wow suite on the 25th floor, with a 16-jet shower and a pillow-filled "playroom." • The glass-encased façade of Hotel Habita (201 Avda. Presidente Masaryk, Polanco; 52-55/5282-3100; www.hotelhabita.com; doubles from $265) glows from within. Though the white-on-white rooms are well appointed (duvets, Hermès amenities), guests spend most of their time at the rooftop bar and pool—the place to hang out late at night.
WHERE TO EAT Locals lunch between one and three and plan on dinner at about nine (or later). The light-filled, lofty Contramar (200 Calle Durango, Roma; 52-55/5514-3169; lunch for two $50) draws a crowd of businessmen in white shirts and models in tight jeans and stilettos. Small plates include sushi-grade tuna tostadas with avocado, soft-shell crab tacos, and grilled octopus in olive oil and paprika. • The windows of Capicua (66 Calle Nueva León, Condesa; 52-55/5211-5280; dinner for two $50) open onto the street, and the sounds of a lively after-work crowd waft down the block. Regulars linger for hours over glasses of wine and tasty tapas (cheese croquettes, Spanish sausages, foie gras with fig jam, tiny steak sandwiches with Brie). • There's often a wait to sit outside at Fonda Garufa (93 Calle Michoacán, Condesa; 52-55/5286-8295; dinner for two $35), an Argentinean restaurant in the center of Condesa's restaurant row. Tender steak—marinated with spices and serrano chile—is a specialty here and served perfectly medium-rare. • For divine tacos, try the bare-bones El Califa (22 Calle Altata, Condesa; 52-55/5271-7666; dinner for two $20). Choose from chicken, beef, or pork topped with cheese and slices of super-ripe avocado, and don't forget an ice-cold Sol beer to wash it all down. • Kaiten Sushi (22 Plaza Villa de Madrid, Roma; 52-55/ 5511-8390; www.kaitensushi.com.mx; dinner for two $60) is a hot spot for playdates (kids love the Japanese animé on the flat-screen TV's) and real dates, despite the fact that there's no bar. Space-age pop plays in the background while sushi rolls zoom by on a conveyor belt. • Travazares Taberna (127 Orizaba, Roma; 52-55/5264-1421; lunch for two $20) is the perfect stop for a salad or plate of pasta in Roma. Browse through the Atrio gallery till your entrées arrive.
SWEET EXCESS On weekend afternoons, lines wind around the block at the always-popular Nevería Roxy (89 Fernando Montes de Oca, Condesa; no phone; about $1 per scoop), an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Try a cone topped with one of the more than 30 flavors, including melon, coconut, and prickly pear. • Don't leave D.F. without having the camotes de Puebla (a sweet potato candy flavored with vanilla, strawberry, or orange) at Roma's Celaya (143A Colima, Roma; 52-55/5207-5858).
WHERE TO SHOP Most small boutiques stock just one or two of each item, so if it's love at first sight, buy it on the spot. Cooperativa 244 (244 Avda. Amsterdam, Condesa; 52-55/5564-9148) showcases the work of 11 female fashion and accessories designers. The offerings are avant-garde (sheer polka-dot shirts with built-in fifties-style bras) and sized fairly small, with new creations dropped off weekly by the designers. • Around the corner, Carmen Rion (30A Avda. Michoacán, Condesa; 52-55/5264-6179) sells flowing pants, skirts, and dresses in neutral-toned and pastel cottons and linens and a small selection of men's long-sleeved guayaberas in white and pink. Check out the wall of accessories such as oilcloth bags, crocheted bikinis, and jewelry made from seed pods. • Fashion-forward chilangos love Kulte (118 Calle Atlixco, Condesa; 52-55/5211-7389) for its sneakers (old-school Nike, Puma, Adidas, and Converse), brands including Gsus from Holland, funky tees by NaCo, Savi jeans, and a plethora of Paul Frank watches and bags. • A young Argentinean couple opened Melba (147 Calle Atlixco, Condesa; 52-55/5286-4423) to sell their designs (and their friends'), including modified rugby shirts with khaki collars, Chinese-style Mary Janes in animal prints, leather cuffs, as well as vintage shoes, all at very reasonable prices.
INTERIOR DESIGN If you only have time to visit one interiors store, it should be Artefacto (94 Calle Amatlán, Condesa; 52-55/5286-7729; www.artefacto.com.mx), for its comprehensive collection of sophisticated (and well-priced) Mexican table and bed linens, glassware, silver jewelry, and leather frames in bright colors. • At newcomer 5 LMENTO (79 Calle Cuernavaca, Condesa; 52-55/5553-0394) it's possible to score an Ericsson Ericofone for $50 to $75 (compared with at least $200 in New York). There's one room of vintage barware and cocktail shakers, another with furniture by Bertoia and Eames. • Chic by Accident (180 Calle Colima, Roma; 52-55/5514-5723), an incredibly stylish store filled with antique furniture and home accessories, is a favorite with Mexico City's architects and interior designers. Prices aren't marked, so be prepared to bargain. • Four industrial designers opened Mob (322 Calle Campeche, Condesa; 52-55/5286-7239) to showcase their work and that of students at the Universidad Iberoamericana. Everything here (oversized ottomans stuffed with Styrofoam beads, cylindrical frosted-glass lamps with brushed-aluminum bases) is modern and minimal. • At Ludens (101E Orizaba, Roma; 52-55/5511-8599) it's about simple pieces like "floating" shelves and upholstered footstools, with a selection of vintage-modern pieces from Chic by Accident.
GALLERIES Condesa and Roma are the places to check out the work of contemporary emerging artists (Silvia Gruner, Miguel Calderón, and Fernanda Brunet, to name a few)in a dozen or so exciting galleries. Galería OMR (54 Plaza Rio de Janeiro, Roma; 52-55/5511-1179; www.galeriaomr.com) was established 22 years ago; its current home is a grand residential building with an ornate ironwork door. The gallery displays both Mexican and international artists, and is the exclusive representative of the late Mexican sculptors Adolfo Riestra and Luis Ortiz Monasterio. • Art & Idea (47 Parque España, Condesa; 52-55/5211-7192; www.art-ideamexico.com) was founded in 1995 as a not-for-profit group dedicated to organizing contemporary arts programs worldwide. It has evolved into a modern space (designed by Enrique Norten, who also did Hotel Habita) that showcases the work of highly experimental artists. • Galería Casa Lamm (99 Calle Álvaro Obregón, Roma; 52-55/5525-3938; www.galeriacasalamm.com.mx) is a cultural center with a book- store, a library, a hot restau- rant, a bar,and a formal gallery with rotating exhibits. • Cuban-born curator Nina Menocal is a legend in Mexico City; in the late 1980's,she opened a gallery in an apartment, where she showed the work of Cuban artists. She has now upgraded to a proper gallery space (93 Calle Zacatecas, Roma; 52-55/5564-7443) and expanded the offerings to include works from Argentina and Mexico as well as Cuba. • MUCA-Roma (73 Calle Tabasco, Roma; 52-55/5511-0925), the off-campus outpost of the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Arte, is one of the few galleries open on Sundays. Emerging artists, often with a political slant, are featured; a recent exhibit encouraged visitors to stick MADE IN CHINA decals on the walls (Mexico has lost many manufacturing jobs to China).
NIGHTLIFE Former MTV Europe VJ Crispin Somerville presides over Prima (17 Plaza Villa de Madrid, Roma; 52-55/5208-2029), a new bar across the Villa de Madrid from Kaiten Sushi. The young and gorgeous hang out on red lounge chairs in the dimly lit loftlike space while sipping drinks (the house cocktail is the Pinindia—a martini with pineapple and cardamom) and nibbling on thin-crust pizzas. • On weekends at the San Luis Club (26 San Luis Potosí, Roma; 52-55/5574-2639) the vinyl banquettes are packed with music fans of all ages who come to hear the 11-piece band play classic salsa/merengue tunes. Want to take a twirl with one of the ficheras, or dancing girls?It'll set you back 10 pesos (about a dollar). • For live jazz, the spot is T Gallery (39 Saltillo, Condesa; 52-55/5211-1211), where Wynton Marsalis and his posse chilled out on a recent trip to Mexico City. • While the glowing red exterior exudes a "too cool for you" vibe, Cinnabar (67 Nuevo León, Condesa; 52-55/5286-8456) bouncers smile and swing the doors wide open into a room that's filled to capacity with scenesters from all over the city.
RIMA SUQI writes for the New York Daily News and New York magazine.
CHEF AND TV PERSONALITY
Mexico's most popular restaurateur and the owner of Izote [513 Avda. Presidente Masaryk, Polanco; 52-55/5280-1671; dinner for two $70] offers four favorite places in her hometown. FEAST YOUR EYES "The Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño [5843 Avda. Mexico, La Noria, Xochimilco; 52-55/5555-1016] has one of the world's largest private collections of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera paintings." FEED YOUR FACE "After a visit to the museum, I stop at Restaurante Arroyo [4003 Avda. Insurgentes Sur; 52-55/5573-4322], near the University of Mexico. I love their mutton—it's cooked in a pit." SATURDAY SPECIAL "There are wonderful artisans selling antique jewelry and embroidered clothing at the Bazaar del Sábado [Plaza San Jacinto, San Ángel]." SOUVENIR PATROL "Tane [430 Avda. Presidente Masaryk, Polanco; 52-55/5547-7915] is famous for silver jewelry—but it's very expensive! I've found some of my favorite pieces at Gigi Mizrahi [112 Calle Julio Verne, Polanco; 52-55/5280-9195]."
The two-hour tour of Modernist master Luis Barragán's house (14 Calle General Francisco Ramírez, Ampliación Daniel Garza; 52-55/5272-4945; by appointment only) includes Barragán's residence, one next door, and another nearby (with its much-photographed indoor pool), designed from 1936 to 1941. • Two of the most important Modernist houses in Mexico City were owned by artistic über-couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (2 Diego Rivera, at Altavista, San Ángel Inn; 52-55/5550-1518). Finished in 1932, the three-story, International Style house and its studios are connected by a bridge; Kahlo's is painted bright blue. • Casa Azul (247 Calle Londres, Coyoacán; 52-55/5554-5999) is Kahlo's childhood home and where she died in 1954—in between, she entertained guests like actress Dolores del Río and Leon Trotsky.
Gallons of tequila produced in Mexico each year
Number of taco stands in Mexico City
the Mexican capital sinks every year (it's built on a drained lake)